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Hong Kong Pressures Google to Censor Protest Anthem in Searches

Pro-Beijing officials are reportedly urging Google to remove a protest anthem from its top results and replace it with their official national anthem.

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Hong Kong officials are pressuring Google to remove protest anthem from search results
Photo: Feng Li (Getty Images)

Google is facing backlash from Hong Kong officials and legislators for a pro-democracy song that has shown up at the top of a search for the China’s national anthem. The song, Glory to Hong Kong, is among the top results, prompting the pro-Beijing legislative council and Hong Kong’s chief secretary to criticize Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc.

The issue comes after local officials launched an investigation last month after the protest song was played before the country’s rugby team played at an international tournament in South Korea. The alleged mistake was made by a junior staffer at the event who had used a track found on the internet, according to Hong Kong officials The Wall Street Journal reported.

The official national anthem, March of The Volunteers, has been in place since Beijing regained sovereignty over Hong Kong, but in 2019, pro-democracy protestors gathered to sing “Glory to Hong Kong”a song they called their new national anthem.

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Google told Gizmodo they can’t comment on the reports that officials in Hong Kong are urging them to adjust their search results. The company has said it believes in open access to information and that it doesn’t remove content unless it falls under specific policies or legal obligations.

What’s likely frustrating officials in China even more, is another recent instance of the pro-democracy song allegedly being played by mistake. This time, at a power-lifting event in Dubai, according to South China Morning Post.

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A search for “Hong Kong national anthem” on google.com.hk as of writing this, first displays a link to the Wikipedia page for Glory to Hong Kong, the pro-democracy song stirring controversy, followed by a Wikipedia link below that to the history of Hong Kong’s actual national anthem. Below that, is four YouTube videos that show the protest anthem. Additional information pulled from the first page of Google’s results directs viewers to news articles discussing the situation.

Sandra Marco Colino, an associate law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong told The Wall Street Journal that Google likely did not intentionally display the protest song at the top of its search results, but it’s probable that its algorithms were at fault.

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She said Google could update the results so Glory to Hong Kong is less prominent, but she added “Another matter is whether it can be compelled to do so” legally.